Keys were a common motif and central element present in many of Léger’s paintings from the late 1920s and early 1930s. The present work is closely related to the most important painting incorporating keys, Le Joconde aux clés from 1930 (Bauquier no. 712) in the permanent collection of Musée national Fernand Léger de Biot. In describing the incorporation of keys into his compositions Léger explained, “One day I had painted a bunch of keys on a canvas. They were my own. I had no idea what I was going to place next to them. I needed something absolutely different from the keys. When I had finished working I went out. I had hardly gone a few steps when what did I see in a shop window? A postcard of the Mona Lisa! I understood at once. What could provide a greater contrast to the keys? I achieved the most risky painting in this way from the point of view of contrasted objects" (quoted in P. De Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p.111).
The present work is one of the earliest examples of Léger’s juxtaposition of floating objects and figures in his work and exemplifies the powerful influence of Surrealism on the artist's aesthetic around 1930. Although the artist never aligned himself formally with this group of painters, Léger, ever at the forefront of the avant-garde, was not immune to the appeal of the biomorphic imagery that pervaded the pictures of Miró and Dalí during these years. The present composition is a fine example of how Léger incorporated the linear flourishes and amoeboid forms of Surrealist iconography into his Purist aesthetic practices.
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